The Process

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Elizabeth Poole
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Re: The Process

Post by Elizabeth Poole » February 13th, 2010, 11:23 am

Thank you everyone, for posting about your methods! I find it extremely helpful to read about other people’s processes. I am a huge fan of experimentation, so I like to see how other people make the magic come.

Some quick advice for Emily, if I may: try to not edit as you go. Some people can’t stand for there to be typos and glaringly obvious errors on the page, and that’s fine, but when I was editing during the first draft stage, I never finished anything either. I really admire Serzen for being able to do it Vonnecut-style (so very sad Vonnecut’s dead *moment of silence*), but I can’t ever seem to finish a book if I worry about editing during the first stage. I participated in NaNoWriMo a few years ago. It happens every November, and the goal is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in one month. That breaks down to about 1,500 words a day. When you have that kind of deadline, you really can’t edit as you go, not a major edit at least.

After that, I started finishing novels left, right, and center. Now when I write I focus on getting the first draft down. Because of my extensive preparation process though, the first draft reads closer to a second draft.

I have found that I am usually the odd one out when it comes to outlines and character sheets. Not because I fly by the seat of my pants; most people seem to do that. It’s almost as if “common wisdom” states that writers should outline and build characters, and do all sorts of things before they write the book. But no one really explains how to do these exercises correctly, the end result is you are so burnt out on your novel by the time you are done, you can’t write it. So you say to yourself, “Self, that was stupid. I guess character sheets and outlines don’t work for me.” So then you never use them in great detail again.

I am extremely OCD about how I write too, but in a different way than Serzen. I use character sheets and outline aplenty before I write. I have written books with and without doing that, and my first drafts are ten times better when I use a character sheet and outlines. But my character sheets aren’t full of information like their zodiac sign, favorite toothpaste, and breakfast routine, something to be filled out and never used again. Noah Lukeman wrote a brilliant book called, “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Develop Plot”. He has three chapters devoted to characters. Not the just the nit-picky stuff of whether or not your character has good hygiene, but how the events in his life shaped him, and how you as the writer can use that in your story. Once I started looking at the character traits, not as a laundry list to fill out, but fodder for the plot, it immensely helped my characterization.

After I am done with my characters, and a little bit during (because done well, characters and plot are interwoven), I work on the plot. I mine my characters for situations, however small, I can use to test them. If I have a theme or story question in mind, I think about all the possible ways that this could turn out. I use a lot of free thinking brainstorming towards this end. I might come up with some really ridiculous ideas, but it’s helpful for me to consider all the different ways this plot could manifest itself. I have a brief outline of the sequence of events. Sometimes while writing I have a Eureka moment that changes the outline, in which case I revise the outline accordingly, but I still have a general direction to aim for while I am writing. This allows me to be creative, and write books that surprised me, but I have enough structure that the book gets finished.

Recently, I have been writing out short little scenes with my characters in them during the plotting process. The scenes aren’t necessarily in order, and they are never longer than 2-3 thousand words, but it helps me figure out how I want to write them, and the overall tone of the story. I keep having the problem that Serzen mentioned, where the front of the book didn’t sound like the back of the book, because I was still thrashing around on the keyboard figuring out how to write the characters. Writing a scene or two before starting the first draft, coupled with my character development process has remedied this problem, for the most part.

I always write to music, all kinds. It depends on the feel of the book I want. If I am writing something with a grungy tone, Soundgarden (yay! They’re getting back together), Garbage, and Nirvana goes into the playlist. If it’s something lighthearted, pop music dominates. If it’s something epic and sprawling, out comes Nightwish, Dragonforce, and Meat Loaf. I always have something to drink next to me, usually iced tea, but sometimes juice or water. I like to have snacks nearby too, usually Cheetos, chocolate, or fruit.

I used to write exclusively long hand, but I can’t write as fast as I think, so it’s too frustrating now. I take a notebook with me to work, and jot ideas and thoughts down, but they get typed up when I get home. I also like having two copies of everything, because I am deathly afraid of losing all my writing stuff. You know that question, if your house was on fire, what would you take with you, other than your family and pets? My item would be my flash drive.

Not to plug myself shamelessly, and I am far from an expert, but I am in the process of writing a blog series about how to go from an idea to a finished manuscript. It might help you, Emily, to check it out. The process I use might not work for you, but I find even if someone’s overall process doesn’t fit with how I do things, I can still take a tidbit here and there. Let me know if you have any questions; I know how frustrating just starting out can be.

Well, I believe I have rambled on enough. I hope everyone has a good day!
Proud owner of a Plot Wolverine

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Re: The Process

Post by abc » February 13th, 2010, 7:30 pm

Serzen, are you a Virgo?

I like to make notes. I have moments of inspiration I definitely will forget the next day. Joan Didion wrote about the notes she and her husband would often make and sometimes share out loud with each other (in The Year of Magical Thinking). If it is good enough for Joan Didion, it's good enough for me.

I actually think I'm more creative when writing longhand, but I'm also too lazy to commit to it so I mostly stick to Word. My current official process is to make a poop-it-all-out-as-I-think-of-it 1st draft and then to edit with the assistance of an outline.

I like coffee, tea, coke, and cookies. I like to write in busy coffee shops because it makes me feel more creative and inspired. But I also write at work when there is down time. I can't sit at home and write at my desk. If I do decide to write at home then I'll take the laptop to bed or the couch.

P.T. Anderson has said that he likes to wake at six and write when his subconscious is still at work, but I haven't found the discipline to do this yet. Though I like the idea.

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Re: The Process

Post by MattB » February 14th, 2010, 12:08 pm

Hey Emily (and all),

I've been reading Nathan's awesome blog for a while now, but this is my first effort to contribute....

Emily, I'm not clear if you've written an entire first draft and are simply starting a rewrite, but you may find it useful simply to plow through, forget the inconsistencies for now, and finish a full first draft. That way, you will at least have something complete (however flawed) to work off of when you are doing all your subsequent rewrites. You can see which parts of the end don't line up with the beginning and make the proper adjustments, all within context of the solid, complete mass of story in front of you. If I'm mistaken and you've already finished a draft, then nevermind the last...Just sit back, set the book aside, and mull over the weak points your gut instinct tells you could be better.

I've more or less copied Stephen King's approach to writing as he describes in "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft," and it has served me quite well. Plow through a first draft simply to bare your soul and get that shining story out of you, and then set it aside for a while to remove your mind from it. Then, read it...make edits...see the flaws. Then, rewrite from scratch, with the original draft in front of you, making small (or huge) changes as you go. The rewriting process has always terrified me, but it always ends up being my favorite part of the novel writing process. It's the part where you can shift and shape the story already sitting in front of you -- kind of like you are molding a piece of clay.

But maybe that just works for me. I'm currently experimenting with a new process right now, which is...I wrote the first 1/3 of the book, then noticed it was becoming something completely different than I needed it to be to continue. I then used what I had to rewrite it up until the 2/3 point. I'm now rewriting that 2/3 of the finished book and will finally plow through to the end. By the time I reach the last page, only the last 1/3 of the book will be in "first draft" form, and I'll have less rewriting to do. I decided to bend my Stephen King inspired "rules" for this book, and it has served me well, I think...only because the story points between the middle and the end were so hazy to me while starting out. I've even had two readers sample the first 20 pages and give me feedback (at risk of them hating it and inspiring doubt in my fragile heart). Still, the "punch out an entire first draft" approach has been very beneficial to me in the past...because you simply get to experience your own story from beginning to end without interruption. I think stopping at letting yourself worry about what does/doesn't work can (but won't always) take you out of the experience you are hoping to create for future readers, and it might stall you. One of Stephen King's major points about simply finishing a draft, however flawed, is that you have something complete to work with before doubt eats you (and the story) alive. In a sense: out-write your doubts and concerns! Ditch doubt completely, and save the concerns for future editing/rewrites. If those first few chapters you keep rewriting are not hindering what you know happens next, then write what happens next...and next...and next...until the end. THEN do your rewrite!

But maybe not! What works for me might be unfathomable to everyone else. :-)


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Re: The Process

Post by Wishnackha » February 17th, 2010, 11:10 pm

Hi, just joined today so I could join in. I hope you don't mind, but here's my process:

I just purge. I have an idea - voice/s in my head - so I write. Editing as I go only takes away the creative flow. First copy is simply a purge of the character/s life.

I tend to write one chapter at a time. When I've finished that chapter, I re-read it and correct simple typos and the like, then leave it.
When it's time to write the next chapter, I'll read the last half of the previous chapter to get myself in the groove of the story... so on and so on, until it's done.

I'll have a notebook next to me so I can add details as I need them: So and so's birthday, hair colour, eyes, best friend, link to other characters, job, etc. And sometimes, if I'm feeling organised - not a typical thing - I'll have a chapter outline so I have the essentials with me and don't make the mistake of having X being married to Y for seven years in chapter 2, whereas in chapter nine it says they're celebrating their sixth anniversary.

Type "The End": Do a read of the book making simple changes; change that sentence, remove "that" fifty times, delete entire paragraphs and add some more.

Leave in a drawer for two months MINIMUM.

I find when I'm too close to my work I can't see it clearly. So I leave it, get on with life a bit, then go back to it with eyes and mind afresh.

Print it out and read it in comfort, on the couch or in bed, with a highlighter in my hand and a pen next to me. I then correct the glaring mistakes which were invisible before. Swap paragraphs, add detail of environment - which is something I miss a lot as I'm concentrated on the charaters.

Then I go back to the computer with my corrected copy beside me and fix the crappy copy.

Leave it for a month.

Read it again and if all's well, LEAVE IT ALONE! Over editing can destroy a story just a sure as no editing at all.

Perhaps tweak it here and there if needed.

I always leave a decent chunk of time between edits in oreder to distance myself from the story.

Quick edit
Fix crappy copy

Save and backup as often as possible. Don't want award-winning manuscript to vanish.

(Leave then edit can be repeated umpteen times until you feel you have it right. I think it's different for everyone.)

Oh, and I always have Mr Dictionary beside me. It's my best friend. Soon to be joined by Mr Thesaurus.

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Re: The Process

Post by victoria » February 18th, 2010, 5:45 am

My writing process changes depending on what I'm writing, my current WIP started as a short story but I really loved the character's voice and felt I hadn't done them justice in the short piece, so I started again and re-wrote and kept writing.
I like to have a fair idea of what I want to happen but I like to let my characters loose and see how they respond - i like to be very flexible when I write. I generally don't go back and read til I reach the end and once I'm done I edit like mad and keep tinkering.
Sharing my research on how teens read and applying it to the process of writing.

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Re: The Process

Post by E McD » February 18th, 2010, 6:44 am

Thank you Matt B and Elizabeth for taking the time to offer such sound advice.

Hugs, Emily
-Emily McDaniel

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Re: The Process

Post by Simpatico » February 18th, 2010, 3:12 pm

I don't know that I actually have a specific "process", but I do know that I write best when I really know about the scene I'm going to write. By which I mean I have to percolate each scene beforehand in my head, and know how it's going to go down and who's involved etc. If I don't do this I wind up meandering and writing stuff I'm very unhappy with.

Once I have a good idea in my head of what I'm trying to do, I can have a good writing session and knock a scene out. I love when that happens.

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Re: The Process

Post by GG_Writer » February 19th, 2010, 2:15 pm

I just joined so I could participate in this discussion. It's so interesting to learn about how different writers write.

Although I've been writing for a long time, I'm not sure I have been consistently dedicated enough to have developed a real process, plus all the novels I've completed have been written under such different circumstances that each of their processes have been unique. (I could elaborate, but I'd go on and on, so for now, I'll try and stick to the main point.) However, in the past few years, I've made some real progress in finding a process that works for me.

One thing that has really helped me recently is NaNoWriMo. I've participated (and won!) for the past two years and found it to be an excellent tool for developing a writing rhythm. I do enjoy writing longhand, so I would write in a notebook at work and try and punch out 500-800 words at lunch. Then after work, I would type them in right away and just continue writing on the computer. I usually didn't make major changes while typing things in, but I did clean things up. I'm definitely someone who just needs to get the first draft out there, otherwise, I tend to get bogged down. It can be about momentum for me.

Within the past few months, I discovered Scrivener. Unfortunately, it's only for Mac, but it's a great flexible tool for writers. It's based on the concept of index cards, which I had already attempted to use in past, but found them pretty cumbersome physically to carry around and deal with, but they work great on Scrivener. Just having my manuscript divided down into scenes, being able to view them as an outline or a group of index cards and finding the one I want without having to do a lot of scrolling is magical to me. I haven't had the chance to work on a project from idea to completion using Scrivener yet, but I except it's something I'll be using for years to come.

You can probably tell by now that I'm an outliner. I don't have every detail mapped out ahead of time, but I've tried working without one before and all I end up with is a mess. I very rarely start with a character. My ideas usually come to me first as a world/magical system (I write fantasy) or a situation. Sometimes character comes along with that, while other times, I try and think of the best character to highlight some of the inherent conflict in whatever world/magical system or situation I'm thinking about. Plot, character and world all meshes together and builds so quickly in my mind, it's hard to figure out which came first sometimes.

Emily--I agree with those who have said that you may just have to push forward without getting your beginning perfect first. Honestly, I don't think there IS a way to get a beginning perfect, without having written the rest. I don't know if the others will agree with me, but beginnings are probably the most rewritten part of everything I've done. There's a lot going on and a lot that has to be accomplished at the beginning of a novel. Because you have things planned out, you might want to try skipping ahead to something you're really excited about, maybe the climax or some other pivotal scene. You can always change it when you get to it for real, but it could help get your flow going--make you think more about where you want to go instead of where you've been. Good luck!

Thanks for sharing, everyone!

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Re: The Process

Post by E McD » February 20th, 2010, 11:43 pm


Welcome to the Bransforums! And thank you for the personalized advice - this is such a great place for all of us. :)
-Emily McDaniel

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